Sarah Skilton Talks To Bookbag About Writing High and Dry

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Sarah Skilton Talks To Bookbag About Writing High and Dry

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Summary: Jim was very impressed by Sarah Skilton's High and Dry particularly because it was very differet to her last novel. Sarah chatted to us about the books.
Date: 16 June 2014

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External links: Author's website



Thanks so much for inviting me to guest post on The Bookbag! I'm excited to talk about the challenges I faced while writing my second young adult novel.

In BRUISED the lead character was a 16-year-old girl, but for HIGH AND DRY, the narrator is an 18-year-old boy. Naturally, I was nervous about the change, and whether I could pull it off.

Exhibit A: I've been a 16-year-old girl, but I've never been an 18-year-old boy.

Questions that kept me up at night: Should my male narrator spend time describing girls' bodies? Should he swear more than a girl would? Talk about sex more? Should I nix any and all descriptions of clothes or hair? (Is the fact that I'm even asking myself these questions ridiculous and sexist?)

As it turned out, my fears above were a bit ridiculous. Differences in personality, intelligence, age, and life experience dictated the character voices much more than gender did, in my opinion. The biggest differences between the books are the style and tone of the plot, both of which informed the way my characters speak and behave.

For example, BRUISED has action in the form of martial arts, but the crux of the drama is internal, and the character growth takes place over several months.

HIGH AND DRY, on the other hand, is a noir-ish mystery that takes place in the span of a single week. As such, the conflict is mainly external.

Ironically, in that most male of genres, the hardboiled detective story (as exemplified by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett), descriptions of people's clothing and hair occur frequently by the male narrators.

Here's an example from Raymond Chandler's classic noir, "The Long Goodbye":

She was slim and quite tall in a white linen tailormade with a black and white polka-dotted scarf around her throat. Her hair was the pale gold of a fairy princess. There was a small hat on it into which the pale gold hair nestled like a bird in its nest. Her eyes were a cornflower blue, a rare color, and the lashes were long and almost too pale. She reached the table across the way and was pulling off a white gauntleted glove and the old waiter had the table pulled out in a way no waiter ever will pull a table out for me. (Vintage; reissue edition, p. 89)

What's brilliant about Chandler is that his description of Mrs. Wade's clothing tells us so much about her character, and not just about her style, or her class position in life, but about the effect she has on others, including the waiter, the narrator, and even the reader! There's a lot going on in that deceptively simple paragraph.

I'm no Chandler of course, but I hoped to pay homage to certain elements of classic detective fiction in my book.

Here's my lead character, Charlie Dixon, contemplating his ex-girlfriend and neighbor: Whoever coined the phrase 'girl next door' intending it to mean sweet or innocent, never met Bridget. We used to be tight, but she hadn't given me the time of day in years. Her sudden affection made me suspicious. Just like her emerald eyes, it was too good to be true. You can always spot a fake because it has no imperfections.

Writing from a teen boy's perspective was a blast, and a challenge I'd happily take up again!